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10 Tips for Preparing for Ecommerce Peak Season

By Katie McCann

Whether you’re new to ecommerce this year or you’re a seasoned expert, there’s something about the last few months of the year that’s true for every retailer: it’s the busiest, most hectic shopping season by far. Say hello to the ecommerce peak season.  

Between Black Friday, Cyber Monday, the December holidays and more, calling it the “ecommerce peak season” is an understatement. So, knowing what’s on the horizon, how should you prepare? Continue reading to learn about 10 ways you can set yourself up for ecommerce success when it matters most.

Why Is the End of the Year So Busy?

Needless to say, there are peaks and valleys when it comes to ecommerce. However, it’s safe to bet that the end of the year is packed for most businesses. Why?

Many major holidays are bunched together around this time of year, leading to surges in traffic, sales, shipping, and returns. Some key to dates to note include:

  • Halloween: October 31, 2021
  • Black Friday: November 26, 2021
  • Cyber Monday: November 29, 2021
  • Christmas: December 25, 2021
  • Hanukkah: November 28 - December 6, 2021

Of course, this is not the complete list of major shopping periods. There are some major shopping holidays that fall outside of this time period including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. These are all periods where you can expect to see a surge in traffic and, ideally, sales!

Despite the unpredictable climate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM), and the December holiday season present incredible opportunities for your business to finish off the year strong. 

Take the success of Cyber Monday 2020, for example. It was expected to be the biggest online shopping day in U.S. history and it did not disappoint. With 10.8 billion USD in sales for the day, Cyber Monday 2020 beat out 2019’s numbers by an impressive 15.1%. 

While pandemic restrictions and closures limited in-store shopping options last year, the boom in online shopping as a result isn’t going anywhere as the 2021 holiday blitz approaches. Plus, many shoppers are looking to make their holiday purchases ahead of schedule: 34% of U.S. shoppers in a Shopkick survey indicated that they would make their holiday purchases before Thanksgiving. 

But what does this all mean for your business? It means that the time is now to start preparing for an ecommerce peak season which seems to start earlier and end later each year.

10 Tips for Maximizing Ecommerce Peak Season for Your Business

So let’s get down to it! Here are 10 tips that will help you take full advantage of the shopping season to come. 

1. Use Data to Come Into This Holiday Season Well-Informed

This first one may seem obvious, but its importance can’t be overstated. While it’s impossible to predict the future exactly, referencing numbers from previous years can help you forecast what kind of ecommerce activity to expect — and what to prepare for.. 

This research is especially important if you’re new in the ecommerce space. If you don’t have your own data to draw from, you can always find free information online such as Canada Post’s yearly ecommerce report, or data on recent consumer spending in categories that apply to your business. This can help you forecast how much inventory to stock and inform which products may be bestsellers this time around.  

2. Optimize for Mobile Shopping 

A huge data piece to think about is the growth in mobile shopping. In a 2019 survey, only 15% of respondents used a mobile device to shop on Black Friday; come 2020, that number soared to 46%! If you aren’t prepared for a good shopping experience on mobile, you could lose some valuable business.

Cater towards mobile shoppers with a responsive, mobile-friendly UX (user experience) design on your website. Additionally, look at implementing accelerated checkout options that don’t require users to fill out lengthy forms on their phones, like Apple Pay. Details such as these can make for a seamless mobile shopping experience that can help drive more conversions. 

3. Keep Site Loading Times Down and Avoid Crashes 

A crucial aspect of the online shopping experience during the holiday season is having reasonable site loading times. Even more importantly, you must ensure that the significant increase in traffic won’t cause your site to crash. 

According to Google’s mobile page speed study, every additional second it takes for a page to load worsens a website’s bounce rate (the rate at which consumers visit your site and leave without visiting any other pages). To help guard against this, explore ways to increase your site speed before the ecommerce peak season. You don’t want potential customers to bounce to a competitor!

Pro tip: All of these website optimizations can seem overwhelming if you aren’t super tech-savvy, but don’t fret! Depending on the tool you use for your website (like Squarespace or Shopify) these optimizations can be done easily on the platform. 

4. Start Experimenting With Advertising and Marketing Sooner Rather Than Later 

The middle of ecommerce peak season is definitely not the time to be experimenting with new features, payment systems, or any other large changes where things could go wrong. 

Similarly, you want to stick to messaging, promotions and offers that have a proven track record to ensure you’re capturing the right kind of attention and website traffic. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

So, when is the time to experiment and test new strategies? You want to test these strategies when things are quieter — and you can determine when that is through that data you looked at earlier! That way, when peak season arrives, you can feel more confident in your marketing efforts. 

5. Take Advantage of Top-Converting (and Affordable) Channels 

Generally speaking, email marketing is a top-converting channel to take advantage of during the ecommerce peak season. Plus, once you capture the emails from customers, it’s free! 

Email the contacts you can early on and include engaging content such as countdowns, user generated content (UGC), FAQs and more. This gives your consumers time to get excited about the deals and offers you have on the horizon. It also gives you time to address any concerns around store policies, promotion exclusions and more, so your customers are ready to go by the time ecommerce peak season rolls around. 

You can also  offer an exclusive shopping window to email subscribers to encourage more sign-ups, start your sales surge earlier, and to keep the momentum after the holiday season. Spreading things out can help you extend the shopping period and lessen the burden that a condensed period of traffic, orders, and shipping puts on your business. 

6. Work With a Dedicated Fulfillment and Logistics Partner

From inventory management and packing orders to negotiating shipping rates and processing returns, these things take time and effort to do properly. And as your business grows, it’s inevitable that you will have less and less time to focus on order fulfillment and shipping. You need those hours to focus on marketing, product development, and more.

The importance of having a smooth, seamless ecommerce fulfillment process is taken to another level during ecommerce peak season. If you can’t handle the workload and fail to live up to customer expectations, there could be consequences for your business. 

One solution? Partner with a dedicated fulfillment and logistics provider to take some of the pressure off! A third-party service provider can handle the entire fulfillment process so you can focus on running your business and thriving during the most critical shopping period of the year. 

7. Hire For Important Roles in Advance of the Shopping Season

You don’t want to scramble for support once the busy shopping season starts. Hire for roles including designers, copywriters and digital marketing specialists as soon as possible. By hiring early, you can feel confident that you have the necessary resources and support in place before the rush begins.

You also want to hire early to find the best talent. After all, every ecommerce business is feeling the pinch of the busy season. It’s safe to assume you won’t be the only business looking for support! 

This also applies to a logistics partner, if you decide it’s the right way to go. You don’t want to be onboarding a new partner in the peak of your busy season. Get a logistics partner lined up before the busyness begins, and you get to take advantage of everything they can offer from the get go! 

8. Prioritize Fast, Free Shipping 

If you’re not offering it already, consider free shipping. During the ecommerce peak season, cover shipping costs as part of your holiday offers, or set a minimum threshold to encourage shoppers to buy more in order to qualify for free shipping

The prospect of free shipping can be a challenge for small- to medium-sized businesses considering warehousing and other overhead costs. However, the price for not providing better shipping options to your customers can often mean losing the ability to stay competitive. In a market where shoppers’ expectations are rising, high additional fees will inevitably drive many of them away. This is especially relevant for cross-border shoppers.

9. Consider the Specific Needs of Cross-Border Shoppers

If you’re looking to target customers across the border this holiday shopping season, you’re going to have to address their needs and concerns in order to stay competitive. And what is it that these shoppers care about? Keeping duty fees and shipping times low. 

Shipping and fulfilling across the border presents inconveniences for ecommerce shoppers on both sides. Shipping premiums due to longer distances and customs fees can be major deterrents for cross-border shoppers. 

In light of this, consider promotions that are targeted specifically at the obstacles that prevent cross-border shoppers from converting this holiday season. This could mean offering free or discounted shipping, or covering duty fees for a limited time. 

10. Streamline Your Returns Process

Returns can be a major issue for online retailers of all sizes. These issues are compounded by the fact that returns matter to online shoppers. In the 2018 survey of Canadian online shoppers, 40% indicated that they would abandon cart if the returns policy was not ideal. Here’s a look at some more numbers that prove it: 

  • At least 30% of products purchased online are returned vs. 8.9% in brick and mortar stores
  • 92% of customers will buy something again if the returns process was easy
  • 67% of shoppers check the returns page before making a purchase
  • 47% want an easy-to-print return label

Returns can also affect your bottom line. In the United States alone, return deliveries are projected to cost USD $550 billion by 2024. Incredibly, this number does not include re-stocking expenses or inventory losses! 

So don’t let the costs associated with returns slow you down or cut into earnings! This doesn’t simply mean finding a more efficient way to process returns and add them back into inventory. It means implementing a returns program that’s painless for the consumer: receiving the request, creating the packing label and sending it, all at no extra cost to the customer. 

Take Your Business to the Next Level During Ecommerce Peak Season!

Regardless of whether you’re in growth mode or simply looking to improve your end-to-end logistics before the ecommerce peak season, bringing on a fulfillment partner could be just what you need to take your ecommerce operations to the next level. 

Katie McCann
By Katie McCann

Katie is the Content Marketing Manager at Bolt, creating resources to help ecommerce businesses of all size thrive. When she's not tracking her online orders right to her doorstep, she's obsessing over her pandemic puppy and learning TikTok dances.